Friday, July 17, 2020

A Backup Plan for Your Plan: Recruiting Emergency Poll Workers

By Jake Spano

Greetings Colleagues!

My name is Jake Spano and I am the deputy secretary in Secretary of State Steve Simon’s office. I am also mayor of St. Louis Park. My role as mayor helps me connect local issues with my work at the state and get perspectives on the election issues facing cities. And as we all know we’ve got challenges in 2020!

Right now, we’re gearing up for a big election season — in the middle of a pandemic.

This poses two challenges:

First Challenge: While we know there are people who need to vote at their polling place, we also understand that reducing the number of in-person voters is critical to keep our communities healthy. We at the secretary of state's office are STRONGLY encouraging people to vote from home — using Minnesota’s absentee balloting system — to help prevent spread of COVID-19. Any eligible voter can visit and in a couple of minutes apply for an absentee ballot for both the primary and general election to be mailed to their homes.

Second Challenge: We must all recruit enough poll workers, i.e., election judges, to staff the approximately 3,000 polling locations in Minnesota. Director of Elections David Maeda (former Minnetonka city clerk), recently sent out a few strategies in his weekly email for recruiting the 30,000+ poll workers we’ll need.

Curveball Challenge: But what’s your plan if a week before the election your poll workers suddenly cancel due to COVID concerns? You need a group of volunteers in reserve, and a great resource is all around you: your colleagues who work in your city!

Many of those in public sector roles are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves for the community when called. Your colleagues know the exceptional service delivery your residents expect, and they can rise to that challenge.

St. Louis Park's approach

Many cities, especially in greater Minnesota, have already trained their city staff as poll workers so this idea will not be new to them. For those not familiar with this strategy, I wanted to share more about St. Louis Park’s work and provide ideas for how you can get your city staff to support your elections effort.

In May, St. Louis Park City Clerk Melissa Kennedy had the idea to train 25% of the city workforce to be emergency poll workers. So far, the response has been impressive.

Once Melissa has her final list of emergency poll workers complete, she’ll conduct online training to ensure emergency poll workers are aware not only of the regular duties like assisting with curbside voting and checking voters in, but also extra COVID-related tasks like disinfecting voting booths and managing the flow of people in and out of the polling place. As you know, there’s a lot more to do this year than in the past.

One of the questions we hear from city employees about being a poll worker is whether they will have to declare a party affiliation. It’s true that under state law, no more than half of the poll workers in a location can be from one party. That means the head elections official in the city or county needs to know a poll worker’s party affiliation in order to assign them to the correct polling location. However, they are the ONLY person who knows and they cannot share that information with anyone else.

A backup plan for your plan

We cannot know what challenges we will face in the months ahead, but time spent preparing now will help us succeed on Election Day in administering accurate, transparent, and trustworthy elections in our local communities and the state of Minnesota. In order to do that you must have a backup plan. That plan cannot be to make your regular poll workers risk their health or the health of others by coming in sick, or conversely, make them feel guilty for canceling.

Having a reserve group of election judges can put everyone more at ease.

David Maeda and I are ready to help you with your planning. Contact us with any questions or ideas that can help support your work and that of other election administrators in the state. We want to hear your great ideas too!

Email me at if you’ve got suggestions of your own or would like to get samples of emails you can send to staff, a sample COVID-19 Emergency Plan, and/or a sample COVID-19 Staff/Election Judge Recruitment Plan.

Have a great summer and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Jake Spano
Mayor of St. Louis Park / Deputy Secretary of State

Monday, July 13, 2020

Census Week of Action: Social Media Posts to Share in Your Community

By Rachel Walker, LMC policy analysis manager

Hey all, it’s Rachel, policy analysis manager and "census info connector" at the League.

Did you know July 13-17 is 2020 Census Week of Action? While the census is underway and Minnesota is LEADING in census response, the work is far from over. This week is a great time to check in with your residents to make sure that they have access to the information they need about the census and to encourage historically undercounted groups to respond to the 2020 Census.

People in Minnesota who are less likely to be counted include snowbirds, babies/children ages 0-4, renter households, and college students. You can see the full list of undercounted populations on the MN State Demographic Center website.

To help cities get the word out and to make the week of action as easy as possible, the Minnesota state demographer's office has put together content for social media posts that you can share this week or in weeks ahead. Each has a theme, some information, and an image or video to share with your residents.

Take a look below and feel free to share on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (adjust character counts accordingly), and any other platforms you may use.

Monday, July 13: For the future of our kids and our communities

CONTENT to share July 13

The #2020Census Makes Sense for Minnesota because …

Census data shapes the future for our kids, impacting funding for schools, clinics, parks, libraries & more. Go to or call (844) 330-2020 to respond today. If you do not respond, a census taker will soon visit your home in person. #WeCountMN

Share with this graphic (right-click to copy, then paste in your social media feed, or save to upload)

And/or SHARE this video – 2020 Census: Kids Benefit – We’re Counting on You

Tuesday, July 14: For the future of our communities - for our fair share of funding

CONTENT to share July 14

The #2020Census Makes Sense for Minnesota because ...

Data from the census will determine how billions of dollars in federal funds will be distributed over the next decade. When you respond, you help ensure your community gets a fair share of resources for hospitals, emergency services, schools, roads, and more.

It's not too late - respond now at or call (844) 330-2020. #WeCountMN

Share with this graphic (right-click to copy, then paste in your social media feed, or save to upload)

And/or SHARE this video: Safety First

Wednesday, July 15: For our fair share of political representation

CONTENT to share July 15

The #2020Census Makes Sense for Minnesota because ...

When everyone in the state is counted, we ensure fair representation in government--from local city council all the way up to the federal congress.

Most households have already responded. Don't be left out - respond now at or call (844) 330-2020 #WeCountMN

Share with this graphic (right-click to copy, then paste in your social media feed)

And/or SHARE this video: 2020 Census PSA: How Does the 2020 Census Affect Representation?

Thursday, July 16: It's never been easier for everyone to be counted

CONTENT to share July 16

The #2020Census Makes Sense for Minnesota because ...

It’s quick and easy, and our responses impact our communities for the next 10 years. Take a few minutes and do it today.

You can respond online at (even on your smartphone or tablet) or call (844) 330-2020 to take care if it over the phone.  #WeCountMN

Share with this graphic (right-click to copy, then paste in your social media feed)

And/or SHARE this post from the U.S. Census Bureau

Friday, July 17: For our communities to plan and rebuild

CONTENT to share July 17

The #2020Census Makes Sense for Minnesota because ...

In these complex times, the #2020Census can MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. As we imagine a safer, more equitable future, information about everyone living in our state will help shape our plans. Don’t be left out of the count.

Take a few minutes to respond today. Go to or call (844) 330-2020

Share with this graphic (right-click to copy, then paste in your social media feed)

Got questions about your city's census efforts? contact me any time at Happy posting!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

We Got This: A Very Weird Municipal Clerks Week

It's Municipal Clerks Week, and it couldn't be weirder.

One constant we can be sure of though is that city clerks are using their flexibility and dedication to help communities across the state persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic.

City clerks are:
  • Learning new skills fast, and then turning around and teaching others.
  • Keeping things like bills, notices, critical projects, and reporting obligations on track from near-empty offices or not-so-empty living rooms.
  • Ensuring that cities are operating safely and legally for everyone using the best tools available.
  • Listening to upset residents and finding answers to their difficult questions.
With information changing by the hour, there have been some stressful days. But that's when city clerks take a deep breath and find a way to keep moving forward.

The League's Executive Director David Unmacht has taken up the mantra "We Got This" to show resolve and positivity in the face of crisis. We all know that great city clerks understand this to their core, and are leading the charge.

One more constant: Because you're here for our communities, we strive to be here for you. Keep the calls and questions coming, and we'll keep doing the best we can to support your work.

Take care, stay safe, and THANK YOU!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ready to Celebrate Earth Day? So Are Minnesota Cities!

Ready to celebrate Earth Day? So are Minnesota cities!

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, as well as the 10th anniversary of the GreenStep Cities program.

Earth Day recognizes the movement that brought environmental stewardship into the realm of modern day public policy, and the victories for our health and future that we've accomplished along the way.

GreenStep is our own homegrown challenge and recognition program for cities and tribal bodies who want to walk the walk, and move the needle on greener, cleaner, more efficient, and vibrant communities.

The foundation of what was to become GreenStep Cities was presented to legislators in a report in February of 2009, outlining key building blocks of the program that sound a lot like what over 130 cities are participating in today. Planners hit the ceremonial "green means go" button the following year at the LMC Annual Conference!

Do you have to be a GreenStep City to do great work in sustainability? Heck no. But survey data shows time and again that the program's structure and technical expertise sure do help.

Here's just a few of the achievements that Green Step Cities have notched recently:
  • Rogers is saving $15,000 a year on an energy efficiency and wastewater system project, and is on track for a five-year payback.
  • Milan launched a free community bikes program using donated used bikes. They installed bike racks at the library and a city park, which also has a bike repair station. 
  • South Saint Paul converted lights in the city’s arena to LEDs and is now saving $36,000 a year in energy costs and $6,000 a year in maintenance. Return on investment was just 18 months!
  • Bemidji took advantage of the state’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Program and an Energy Savings Performance Contract to complete $2.45 million in upgrades to eight city buildings, its wastewater treatment plant, and the city’s streetlights. The city's upfront costs were only $273,000 in previously approved capital improvement plan dollars.
  • Jordan cut use of 170 tons of road salt (half!) by switching to a brine mixture.The city saved $6,000 in 2017 alone.
  • Pierz partnered with a local business to offer community garden space. The gardens are used by residents and the school district's FFA class to grow fresh, local produce.
These are just a sampling of the thousands of ways that cities are embracing the spirit and power of Earth Day year round. Curious? Check out the GreenStep Cities website to see what your city and your neighbor cities have been doing to keep it green for 10 years and counting!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

When A Pandemic Changes the Rules: Sharing the COVID-19 Burden on Workers' Compensation

By Dan Greensweig
League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust Administrator 
Recently signed legislation mandates that public safety and healthcare workers who contract COVID-19 are presumed to have gotten it on the job and are therefore eligible for workers’ compensation. It’s critical we support those on the frontlines in this crisis. A volunteer firefighter exposed to COVID-19 on a call shouldn’t have to worry about their financial well-being if they need time off to recover. The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) supports the intent of the legislation – it was a step in the right direction.

Adding these claims to the workers’ compensation system, though, also puts a financial burden on self-insurance pools like LMCIT. We’re owned and managed by our member cities. Cities, and their property taxes, are where we get the money to pay claims.

That works well in normal times. Our members strive to keep their staff healthy and safe. When someone does get hurt, the workers’ compensation system steps in and we take care of that person until they’re back on their feet.

Using a self-insurance pool to pay for this helps spread risk around. Some years, one city will have more claims. Another year, a different city will. Belonging to a pool smooths out the annual variations in costs and makes budgeting easier.

No Way To Spread the Risk
A pandemic changes the rules. When everyone is suffering the same kind of losses at the same time, there’s no way to spread the risk. While local governments maintain reserves, we’re also conscious of our obligation to not hold onto more money than we reasonably expect to need – after all, those are tax dollars.

That’s why we’ve approached the state with a plan to share the COVID burden. Just like the state has sought help from the federal government for costs it couldn’t budget for, we’re doing the same. We’re proposing to pay the first full percentage of COVID-related workers’ compensation claim costs that fall within the range of unexpected losses that we budget for. After that, the state would use its resources to help mitigate the impact on property taxes. This will guarantee the protection that first responders deserve while ensuring our local economies aren’t placed under further strain.

We’re encouraged by how clearly our colleagues at the state level recognize the financial consequences this issue could have for us. As we continue our discussion with them, you can follow along at:

Monday, March 30, 2020

Census 2020: Getting A Complete Count During COVID-19

By Rachel Walker, LMC policy analysis manager 

Hey all, it’s Rachel, policy analysis manager at the League. I'm back with a "Census Eve" update and some ideas for getting a complete count even during pandemic response.

Last week I completed my online census form. It took about seven minutes to answer the questions about age and race for members of my household.

It was also the social studies lesson of the day for my two school-age children who are home due to the pandemic.

We had a good conversation about why an accurate count is important. They were pretty intrigued by how many "0"s there are in the dollar amount of funds distributed based on census numbers — nearly $600 billion! We also talked about the role of government in getting an accurate count.

We didn’t talk too much about why the coronavirus pandemic is going to make conducting the census a lot more challenging, but it will.

April 1 is Census Day

Census Day is April 1. A lot of communities around the state have been working diligently with local partners in complete count committees for months to help ensure a complete count. Many of the strategies involve in-person gatherings and close contact with others.

In order to keep Minnesotans healthy and follow the advice of experts, many of these strategies will have to evolve. The state demographer’s We Count Minnesota campaign recently released some suggestions for doing just that in upcoming weeks
following Census Day to complete the count.

Some examples:

  • Shift to phone call and email campaigns to encourage residents to complete the online census forms.
  • Secure testimonials from local community leaders that you can use in spreading the word.  
  • Identify low-response areas using the Census Bureau's response data and target outreach in those places. This interactive map from the Census Bureau is updated daily. 
  • Check out the Directory of Language Resources to help communicate effectively.
The state demographer’s website is a good place to go for more ideas and resources for promoting the census during this time.

If you have questions or concerns about how your team can most effectively redirect your resources and energy, please reach out to Andrew Virden, the director of census operations and outreach in Minnesota, at (651) 201-2507 or

P.S. We love these census hero posters! These images and more are available to share from the state demographer in high-resolution pdf files.

Check out more of Rachel's census updates:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How Your City Social Media Accounts Can Support COVID-19 Preparation

Cities across the state are thinking about how to prepare their organizations and their communities for the arrival of coronavirus (COVID-19), a new respiratory virus. Preparation can be built into many regular city activities – from personnel policies to parks and rec. Another place you can help prepare your community is online through your social media channels. Here are six tips for using your city’s social media to better prepare your community:

1.    Seek out and share official, accurate information.

Identify which official agencies are taking the lead in your community to distribute health information and share their updates to help distribute accurate information. The Minnesota Department of Health's COVID-19 page is a good place to start. Include a note that says the city wants to keep residents informed with the best and most trustworthy information available.

Viruses don't discriminate and neither should we. Stigma will NOT fight coronavirus. Sharing accurate information will. Learn more:
MDH has a variety of resources your city
can share to distribute accurate information
to your residents about COVID-19.

2.    Keep your language calm and clear. 

It’s easy to share on social — do you want to share information or fear? Information + preparation = better outcomes for everyone. Be mindful of tone, and don’t mock, diminish, or ridicule anything related to the pandemic. This is a good idea for any topic, really.

3.    Recognize those who are experiencing harm and how you can help mitigate that. 

Use correct terminology for the disease: It is “COVID-19” formally, or “coronavirus” informally. Make it clear that your community will not tolerate racist behavior toward people of Asian descent, or any other heritage for that matter. Encourage residents to continue supporting local businesses as appropriate and as advised by health professionals. You can download a "Viruses Don’t Discriminate” poster from the MDH to help.

4.    Translate! 

If you are posting or sharing updates about how to
This is a screengrab of a video showing a man in a black suit signing information about coronavirus. The link to th video is available in the post.
There are resources to help you communicate with
people who need to access information in different formats.
prepare, prevent, or respond, consider who in your community will benefit from a translation of that post. Resources in Hmong, Somali, and Spanish are available from the Minnesota Department of Health. If you are sharing an infographic, make sure that the fundamental information in the infographic is also available in text format in your post or linked on a website for people with low vision or who use screen readers. An MDH video is also available on Youtube providing information about coronavirus in American Sign Language.

5.    Provide fun city content for those who need to stay inside. 

Share your library's online resources, boost your city’s photo contest results, or link to city publications. Use engaging questions and city-themed prompts to provide a “mental break” on people’s feeds: What’s your favorite sign of spring in your city? When someone comes to visit, what is your favorite spot in town to snap a photo? Any landmark-themed haikus out there?

And of course, wash your hands. :) City communicators are a valuable asset to the community and staying healthy is critical to that work. Looking for broader communication resources? Check out this page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dedicated to public health communicators.

The League recorded a webinar on March 12 to address how local governments can prepare. Find more information about the webinar and city preparation resources here: